Residents urged to fill out Census forms - East Valley Tribune: News

Residents urged to fill out Census forms

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Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2010 3:29 pm | Updated: 3:54 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

At a cost of $14.7 billion, it's the mother of all counts. And it's coming to your mailbox by mid-March. The 2010 Census will determine how $400 billion in annual federal funding is distributed to local governments across the country, and local officials and leaders are trying to get the word out to residents to make sure they participate

Census targets tech-savvy Hispanic youth

At a cost of $14.7 billion, it's the mother of all counts. And it's coming to your mailbox by mid-March.

The 2010 Census will determine how $400 billion in annual federal funding is distributed to local governments across the country, and local officials and leaders are trying to get the word out to residents to make sure they participate. Federal monies for state and local governments are distributed based on census figures, so each less person counted hurts residents too, because that means less money for things such as roads, schools and police and fire resources.

Census targets tech-savvy Hispanic youth

In Arizona, annually, about $8 billion in federal program funds and $1 billion in state-shared revenue gets distributed across Maricopa County. That translates to $1,550 for every resident each year.

"We're talking millions of dollars for municipalities," said Kelly Taft, spokeswoman for Maricopa Association of Governments.

The count also affects redistricting of the state Legislature as well as Congressional representation. In 2000, Arizona gained two Congressional seats due to population growth.

But in 2000, Arizona's rate of return was 67 percent, while Mesa's stood at 59 percent. Chandler and Gilbert fared better at 68 and 72 percent respectively, and Queen Creek's was 69 percent.

For every 1 percent of people who don't return the forms, it costs the federal government $80 million to send census workers to their door to include them. In Maricopa County, the current population estimate is pegged at about 4 million, compared with the 3 million tallied in the 2000 census.

That's why efforts are in full gear to get more people to fill out and return the 10-question form by about April 1.

Francisco Heredia, partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, said the agency has hired eight partnership specialists across the Valley in hard-to-count communities. They can reach out to these sections of society by using their local connections and explaining the benefits and ease of being counted.

Still, Heredia said that can be a challenge, especially among minorities.

"Some don't trust the government or have fears on how their information will be used," Heredia said. "Our goal is to tell them filling out the form is easy, confidential and important."

Efforts this time include disseminating information through niche media such as Spanish and Asian newspapers and radio stations.

For towns like Queen Creek, which have seen a growth spurt since 2000, from 4,316 residents to about 26,500 currently, an accurate count is "vital," said the town's planning manager, Wayne Balmer.

"With the hypergrowth we've been experiencing, demand for services like streets and parks is huge," Balmer said. "We want to make sure once we have the numbers, they can be incorporated for future funding."

Gilbert spokeswoman Beth Lucas pointed out the benefits through sheer numbers. For the town's last budget, state-shared revenue made up about 33 percent of its revenue or an anticipated $53 million in 2009-10, which works out to about $240 for every resident.

East Valley municipalities have been coordinating efforts with the Census Bureau to reach out to local nonprofits and faith-based organizations. Everything is being done from banners and magnets, to inserting information in utility bills, to talking to people at community events or through public service announcements on local channels.

Some municipalities such as Mesa also have "complete-count" committees manned by volunteers who are organizing the effort.

Gary Smith, chairman of the Mesa committee, said they're focusing on the senior population, which tends to be scared of divulging personal information for fear of identity theft, or the youth studying out of state, who may not respond because they may think their parents back home will include them.

Max Gonzales, vice president of strategic communications for Chicanos Por La Causa, said his organization has seen an increased effort toward including the Hispanic community and is also working toward increasing response rates. But the challenge, he said, is that while some government agencies are trying to enforce immigration laws, it's hard to explain to people who may be undocumented that another government agency wants information about them only for counting purposes.

"We've made the point that the role of the census is to count every inhabitant, regardless of legal status, and nothing else."

Kevin Hartke, chairman of Chandler's committee, said he's mostly heard security concerns from residents about who's knocking on their door.

"We tell them that workers may knock on people's doors up to six times, but they won't come inside and they won't ask any confidential questions," Hartke said. "It's just 10 simple questions, that's it."

Meanwhile, the bureau is also having a hard time recruiting people part-time as census workers, who'll go door-to-door to collect information from those who don't send back the forms.

Nigel Beckford, local census office manager in Mesa, said about 2,500 workers with basic skills are still needed. They will be paid about $15 an hour.

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